Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3
Again, sorry for the extended absence – my illness returned with a vengeance and I was left feeling like death warmed up ever so slightly in a microwave. BUT, I still made it to ‘Macbeth’! I know, I’m so dedicated to you, feel very, very lucky.
So, I finally got to see James McAvoy play Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios last Monday with my friend Beth. Quick summary for those of you not familiar with ‘The Scottish Play’, as it’s known in Theatreland: Awesome warrior, Macbeth, and his friend Banquo, come across three witches who predict their shining futures; Macbeth will be King and Banquo’s children likewise. Macbeth tells his wife, Lady Macbeth, they decide after much debating to kill the king, Duncan (yep, bit extreme, but bear with). After successfully pulling this off, Macbeth begins his tyrannical reign of Scotland, everything kicks off, both Macbeths go crazy, a bunch of people get murdered, the witches return and the whole thing ends with a huge battle. It’s pretty dark, not going to lie.
And Jamie Lloyd’s production certainly didn’t shy away from the sinister, or the gore for that matter. The stage was slick with blood, potions and vomit, so much so that in the interval, helpers had to sweep it all into the drains to stop the actors slipping over; there was a whole fake-McAvoy head at one point! The stage itself was pretty bare, but the lighting transformed it into a myriad of locations; there were both portable, industrial lights, and actual stage lighting, plus tons of dry ice swirling mysteriously around to give the place a bit of ‘atmosphere’. The over-riding theme for the production was the setting of ‘dystopian Scotland’ apparently after an environmental-global warming-type crisis, although that wasn’t made particularly clear, except by the theatrical programme. Unusually, (almost) all the actors had/put on Scottish accents, which I thought was pretty cool, though Macduff (Jamie Ballard)’s accent slowly slipped its way out the door until he was entirely English by the end.
Actually though, that didn’t matter, because Macduff was fantastic. His lines after hearing of the death of his family often garner snickers from an audience because they just seem so incongruous and childish:
“What, all my pretty chickens?”
And yet his disbelief and shock and guilt at the news were so raw and real that the auditorium was instead filled with complete silence.
Obviously, McAvoy was good too – how could he not be? And kudos to him, even though he’s inextricably linked to Mr Tumnus from Narnia in my mind, I completely forgot about that when watching. After all, this savage, frenzied, uncontrollable, bearded madman bore very little resemblance to the cute little faun with the red scarf and parcels. I thought his tragic fall was very well portrayed, and his slow transformation into a man so lacking in empathy and feeling that he doesn’t even really respond to the news of his once-beloved wife’s death. However, the whole production was so dark and sinister right from the offset, that I almost wish they’d made the beginning a little lighter in tone. I feel like all the ‘Macbeth’s I’ve seen (Roman Polanski’s version and the Patrick Stewart film) have begun as though what happens is inevitable and the darkness is always inside Macbeth, whereas, since Macbeth is such a hero at the start of the play, I’d be quite interested to see a production which really did start on a much lighter note. Obviously, since it starts after a war there would naturally be some wariness, some threat. But after all, Duncan has just won! He goes to the Macbeth household in celebration. I think perhaps a more natural tone at the beginning would contrast much more strikingly with the later ominous darkness and floating daggers than dark dark dark all the way through.
The big question of the play is: who is to blame for Macbeth’s downfall? Do the witches, in forecasting the future, fulfil their own prophecy, and without them would the idea of being King ever have entered Macbeth’s mind? Or, since Banquo doesn’t act upon his prophecy, is it Macbeth himself, and something ruthless deep within him? Or, considering he almost backs out of it until his wife coerces and persuades him into it, is it Lady Macbeth, the driving force behind their relationship, hungry with ambition? Lady Macbeth (Claire Foy), I have to say, I wasn’t particularly drawn to at first, and although she got increasingly better and better as the play went on, I still wasn’t as convinced of her as I was of some of the other protagonists. Her Scottish accent was incredible though considering she’s English (although I’m probably not the best judge of these things) and I really liked the development in characterisation her and McAvoy had come up with to explain their motivation. In an after-show talk with the cast, they presented the idea that the Macbeths are irreparably damaged by their inability to have a child, and a possible miscarriage earlier. McAvoy pointed out that they attempt to murder every child, and everyone who has a child, during the course of the play, almost as if they are avenging their own failure to conceive or to give birth. I was quite convinced by the argument that they are not purely motivated by ambition, as this seems almost too simple, but does anyone out there have any opinions on this? And who do you think is to blame?
Overall, a pretty amazing, but heavy, production, and to be honest, the fact that I stayed awake through all of it is a tribute to the skill of the actors – as Beth will tell you, I practically fainted from illness at times during the evening, but I’m proud to say I didn’t miss one line. What will be interesting is to compare this production with the Globe one this summer, which I’m going to see, so expect more about that in the future. Plus I managed to read quite a few books on my sickbed, so I promise I’ll post more soon 🙂 Thanks, as usual, for reading!